The following is free of spoilers. Any specifics about the movie that are mentioned are either explicitly shown in trailers or heavily implied by them.
1. Will my kids like it?
Yes, to a near certainty, and that’s true even if they (for whatever reason) aren’t huge fans of Monsters, Inc.. The humor in Monsters University is largely unsubtle, rarely if ever sophisticated or obscure, and yet often laugh-out-loud funny even for adults. Kids will just eat it up, despite its lack of jokes related to flatulence. The visuals are gorgeous, the voice acting is top-notch, and the story is, well, simple — which if you think about it is a pretty big change from most other major movies of the past several months. I mean, when the new Superman movie is several times more complicated than any such film that preceded it, it’s comforting to have an animated film with a simple, straightforward plot. It’s not the best film to come out of Pixar, but it will make audiences happy.
As far as scary scenes go, there’s not much to worry about here. There is one bit not far from the end that could scare smaller kids for a few minutes, but other than that and a few startling moments, I’d think that most kids old enough to comprehend what’s going on in the story would have no problem. It’s rated G, and I can’t argue with that.
(Oh, by the way, you should know that the disco ball scene from the TV spots does not actually appear in the movie — whether it was cut, or made just for the ads, I don’t know. But in case your kids were looking forward to it, you should know it won’t be there.)
2. Will I like it?
Again, yes, and particularly if you went to college. The sly references to events and people you’d encounter on a college campus are fantastic, and there are a few jokes that were clearly aimed higher than most kids. But there’s certainly plenty in the film to enjoy even if you don’t have that grounding — this is a Pixar film, after all, and as usual they manage to make it work on multiple levels. Do keep in mind that it is basically a fun college film about monsters aimed at kids, so it isn’t going to give The Incredibles, say, a run for its money as far as overall quality is concerned. But it’s still pretty darn funny.
3. When’s the best time for a bathroom break?
The story moves pretty quickly, so there aren’t any particularly great times. If someone really can’t wait till the end, though (the film is 102 minutes long, so that could well happen), I’d recommend going right when Mike and Sulley arrive to their new home at the Oozma-Kappa frat house. You’ll still miss some good stuff, of course, but it’s a bit more drawn out than most similar seenes.
4. Is it worth paying more for 3D?
Yes, actually! As you’d expect from a company like Pixar, they included 3D in the film from the planning stages on forward. They only “throw stuff” at the audience a couple of times — mostly, the effect is used to create depth into the frame, and, considering how many monsters are visible at any time (an average of 25 per shot), that really helps enhance the enjoyment of the film. Plus, since they knew it would be shown in 3D, the Pixar folks brightened the movie enough to compensate for the darkness caused by the 3D glasses. So I don’t often say this, but you definitely should try to see Monsters University in 3D if possible.
5. How does it compare with Monsters, Inc.?
This is going to sound odd, but the honest answer is that it’s very difficult to compare the two. I mean yes, obviously Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters, Inc., and they share three major characters. But the stories are really entirely different, as are the ultimate messages behind them. I will say this: The new film is true to the characters of Mike and Sulley (and Russell) from the original, very expertly making them seem younger and less experienced in the ways of the (monster) world.
Of course, the animation is much, much better, as you’d rightly expect after more than a decade of technological advances. you may remember there was much ooh-ing and aah-ing over the way Pixar had managed to animate Sulley’s fur in the original film — in this one, the fur looks like you could reach out and touch it. And that’s just part of what they’ve been working on for the new film — if you haven’t yet, check out my previous articles about the making of the film: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
6. What about the short film at the beginning? Forgettable, decent, or instant classic?
7. Do I need to sit through the credits for a bonus scene at the end?
Yes, and the scene is totally worth waiting for.
8. Will I want to see it again?
If you’re anything like me, you will. I definitely need to see it again, and not just because I wasn’t able to bring my kids with me to the preview screening: I was looking for the various Pixar “Easter eggs,” but didn’t spot them, so I must look again when I can let myself focus on parts of the screen other than where the main action is. And, of course, it’s a terrific film with some great voice acting, so who wouldn’t want to see it more than once?
9. About that voice acting — is it really that great?
Heck, yes. Not only do Billy Crystal and John Goodman knock it out of the park reprising their roles as Mike and Sulley, but the supporting voice cast is fantastic: The head of the university, with the marvelous name of Dean Hardscrabble, is voiced by the brilliant and inimitable Dame Helen Mirren. Steve Buscemi is terrific reprising his role as Randall/Randy, the chameleon villain from the original film, whose backstory is given serious fleshing out here, too. Joel Murray, whose voice I swear is nigh-indistinguishable from his brother Brian Doyle-Murray’s, does a nice job as returning-ed student Don. Sean Hayes and Dave Foley are hysterical as the two heads of the monster Terri/Terry. And some guy named Nathan Fillion has a terrific turn as the incredibly self-important leader of the frat with all the best scarers, who (along with Dean Hardscrabble, to some extent) is the closest the film has to a villain.
10. Does it work as a prequel?
It mostly does. Some scenes would work better if they could be viewed without prior knowledge of where Mike and Sulley are going to end up, but that’s almost inevitable. The filmmakers are good enough to be able to create some suspense in places that really shouldn’t have any, because they’re able to distract you from what you know is going to happen long enough. And, cleverly, they put in references to the original film for the careful observer to spot.